An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Spring Wildflowers

Miterwort Flowering

5-28-14 miterwort _0328Miterwort, also known as Bishop’s–cap, is named for the resemblance of its fruits to the hats (known as miters) worn by bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. If you examine a flower closely, you will see its delicate, 5-pointed, snowflake-like beauty. Each flower is in the shape of a tiny cup, with dissected petals arising from the rim of the cup, resembling fine lacework. There is a glandular ring of nectar-producing tissue inside the cup which attracts small bees, flies and ants. Once pollinated, the flowers produce open seed-containing capsules. Water, not animals, is the dispersal agent for Miterwort’s seeds. The capsules orient themselves so that their opening faces upward. When it rains, the falling rain drops splash the seeds out of the capsules, dispersing them up to three feet away from the parent plant. The distance traveled by the seeds is dependent upon both the size of the raindrop and the distance that it has fallen before landing in a capsule.

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Bloodroot A Fair-weather Friend

bloodroot in rain 336Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), utilizes contrasting white (petals) and yellow (pollen-bearing stamens) colors to attract insects and achieve pollination. The blossoms have no nectar, only pollen, and in order to protect the pollen, the petals of this member of the Poppy family close on overcast days and nights, a time when most pollinators are inactive. The reopening of the flowers depends on temperature and cloud cover. If it’s sunny out, the flowers will open when the temperature reaches 47°F. Native bees, which are Bloodroot’s main pollinators, don’t usually fly until it is 55°F., so flies, capable of flying at slightly lower temperatures, do most of the cool weather pollinating.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Coltsfoot Flowers A Welcome Source of Nectar for Bees

4-25-14  coltsfoot 125Even though they are not rare and they are not especially known for their beauty, the dandelion-like flowers of Coltsfoot beckon like no others. To humans, the brilliant yellow petals of this member of the Aster family are a bright beacon in the relatively drab brown world revealed after the snow melts. But they are an even more compelling sight for bees at this time of year, for these flowers are a very early source of nectar in the spring, when there are few other wildflowers blooming.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Jack-in-the-Pulpit Corm: A Black Bear Delicacy

5-23-13 jack-in-the-pulpit corm 069When black bears first emerge from hibernation, they survive mainly on emerging green vegetation in wetlands. As the season progresses, there are more and more food options to choose from, including a favorite – the corm, or underground bulb-like storage structure, of Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Even though they are large, somewhat lumbering creatures, black bears dig up and remove these corms as if they had a tiny tool designed just for this purpose. They barely disturb the earth, leaving only very small holes as evidence of their presence. A friend of mine witnessed this just outside his window one spring day, and could not believe the delicacy with which the bear extracted these morsels of food from the ground. Apparently the calcium oxalate crystals in Jack-in-the-Pulpit that cause the burning sensation in human mouths doesn’t affect bears, at least not enough to protect the plant.


Early Saxifrage Flowering

5-8-13 early saxifrage153Early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) is well named – it flowers early in the spring, and is often found growing in or on rocks. (The name saxifrage derives from the Latin words “saxum” meaning rock and “frangere,” to break. When the small seeds of saxifrage lodge in rock crevices and germinate, the plant looks as though it split the rock.) If you look closely you’ll see that early saxifrage’s flower stalk has many hairs – they are glandular and their stickiness is thought to deter ants from taking nectar from the flowers, so that it can attract more efficient pollinators.


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e  book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”

I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


Bloodroot Seeds and Myrmecochory

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Bloodroot seeds, as well as the seeds of as many as 5% of flowering plants, have a fatty white appendage called an elaiosome attached to them which ants are very fond of.  This adaptation benefits both the ants as well as the plant.  The ants collect the seeds and take them down into their tunnels where they feed the elaiosomes to their larvae. The actual seeds are discarded underground, often in with ant compost, where their chances of germinating are enhanced. The dispersal of seeds by ants is referred to as myrmecochory. As the photographs indicate, ants don’t always wait until the seeds have dropped out of the seed pod to collect them.


Painted Trillium

Even in the rain, Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) can brighten one’s day.  Its species name, “undulatum” aptly describes its wavy-margined petals and its common name reflects the splash of pink in the center of the white flower.  This member of the Lily family likes acid woods and bogs. Look for it in mature, second-growth forests of Red Maple, Paper Birch, Eastern Hemlock and Eastern White Pine. Wildflowers likely to be found where Painted Trillium grows include Starflower, Sarsaparilla, Canada Mayflower, Indian Cucumber-root, Partridgeberry and Goldthread.


Red-necked False Blister Beetle

 

If you find a blossoming Trout Lily in the woods it is quite likely that you will also find one of its most common pollinators, the Red-necked False Blister Beetle (Asclera ruficollis), on it. Ardent pollen eaters, this group of beetles obtain their common name because many species cause blisters when pinched or squashed against skin. Adults mate on flower heads during pollen feeding. Both sexes feed on pollen, which acts as an attractant, but the female will not accept the male until her gut is packed full of pollen. She stores the pollen in a special intestinal sack in which an enzyme causes the pollen to partially germinate — this causes the indigestible covering of the pollen grain to rupture. She then digests the contents of the pollen grain, which she uses to manufacture eggs. 


Spring Beauty Pollinators

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) is one of our earliest woodland wildflowers to blossom, and thus an important source of nectar and pollen for the earliest foraging insects.  Pink lines (“bee guides”) on each of its five petals lead pollinators to the center of the flower, where the nectar is located. The pollinator in this image, Andrena erigeniae, is one of the more common species of bees that visits Spring Beauty in the early spring.  Notice the slightly pink pollen she has gathered into the pollen basket on her hind leg.  If you’re interested in spending time observing the series of different insect pollinators that visit Spring Beauty as the season progresses, there’s a golden opportunity for you.  If you go to http://springbeauties.wordpress.com/ you can participate as a citizen scientist volunteer and participate in their survey.


Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold’s (Caltha palustris) common name is partially accurate – it does grow in marshes, but it is not closely related to marigolds.  It is also known as Cowslip, a name which is also misleading, as it doesn’t refer to cows losing their footing when walking on this plant.  According to The Secrets of Wildflowers by Jack Sanders, the word literally means “cow slop,” or cow dung, as both the English cowslip, for which it was named, as well as cow paddies were found in the same pastures. People used to believe that butter derived its yellow coloring from the Cowslip flowers that cows ate. In fact, like many other plants in the Buttercup family, it contains irritants that cause most grazers, including cows, to avoid the plant.  Humans do eat the young leaves, but boil them several times to rid them of acrid irritants that could be poisonous.   


Squirrel Corn and Dutchman’s Breeches

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Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) and Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) are in the same genus, and their leaves and flowers reflect this close relationship. Squirrel Corn’s flowers are more heart-shaped, and lack the upright, pointed spurs of Dutchman’s Breeches flowers. It is in these spurs that nectar is produced. Squirrel Corn gets its name from the clusters of yellow, kernel-like bulblets, or tubers, that form on its roots. Dutchman’s Breeches, at least to the person who named it, resembled pants worn by men in the Netherlands.


Bloodroot

All members of the Poppy family have milky or colored sap, and Bloodroot (Sanguinarea canadensis) is no exception.  Its sap is as red as its petals are white, and was used as a source of dye by Native Americans (for clothing and baskets) as well as for paint and as an insect repellent.  The individual flower of Bloodroot  lasts only two days, but on these two days, it reigns supreme amongst the early ephemerals.

 


Coltsfoot

The bright yellow splashes of Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) amidst the drab brown landscape this time of year are eye-catching, to say the least. Like Hepatica, Coltsfoot began blooming about a month early this year. Easily mistaken for a Dandelion, Coltsfoot usually flowers first, and unlike Dandelion’s leaves which appear before the flowers area evident, Coltsfoot’s leaves don’t appear until seeds have set.


Hepatica

Hepatica, a member of the Buttercup family, is one of the first woodland wildflowers to appear in the spring, sometimes when there is still snow on the ground. It is currently flowering in northern New England, as much as a month earlier than usual.  Hepatica’s stem and flower buds are covered with dense, glistening, silvery hairs.  Some botanists theorize that these hairs may, in fact, help the plant retain heat during cold March and April days and nights.  Others see them as a deterrent to crawling insects, such as ants, which steal their nectar, given the chance — flying insects, including early flies, bees and butterflies, are more efficient pollinators. (Even if Hepatica isn’t visited by insects, it can fertilize itself.)  Named after the Greek word for liver (“hepar”),due to its three-lobed, evergreen leaves which resemble the shape of a human liver, Hepatica, also known as Liverwort, was thought to be effective in treating liver disease.

 

 


Naturally Curious wins National Outdoor Book Award

I am delighted to be able to tell you that this morning I learned that NATURALLY CURIOUS won the Nature Guidebook category of the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards.  I’m honored and humbled by this recognition.   http://www.noba-web.org/books11.htm


National Pollinator Week (June 20 – 26)

Five years ago the U. S. Senate designated the last week of June as “Pollinator Week” in honor of all the bees, bats, butterflies, beetles, birds and other creatures responsible for transporting pollen from one plant to another plant of the same species for over 75%  of all flowering plants (wind does most of the rest). In the U.S. pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually – think chocolate, almonds, apples, coffee, blueberries, etc.


Painted Trillium

There are several species of trillium in the East, but painted trillium is my personal favorite. The deep pink center truly does look as if it were painted on its white petals. Being a member of the Lily family, many of painted trillium’s parts (leaves, petals, sepals, stamens and carpels) come in sets of three. It has just started blossoming in central Vermont and New Hampshire – look for it in acid woods and bogs.


Miterwort

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Every
flower deserves to be looked at under a hand lens, but perhaps none more so
than Miterwort, also known as Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla).  The delicate arms radiating out from the
flower’s center bear an uncanny resemblance to a 4-pointed snowflake. The fruit
of this member of the Saxifrage family resembles a mitre, or bishop’s cap;
hence, its common names.


Spring Ephemerals

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Early
in the spring, before trees leaf out and shade the forest floor, and when the ground
is nutrient-rich and moist, spring ephemerals – wildflowers that bloom and
disappear within a month or two – appear.
These beautiful woodland wildflowers take advantage of this time of year,
before competition begins in earnest.  In
order of appearance, the photographs are of:
BLOODROOT, Sanguinaria canadensis; BLUE COHOSH, Caulophyllum
thalictroides; CUT-LEAVED TOOTHWORT, Cardamine concatenata; DUTCHMAN’S
BREECHES, Dicentra cucullaria; HEPATICA, Hepatica nobilis; LARGE-FLOWERED
BELLWORT, Uvularia grandifolia; PURPLE TRILLIUM, Trillium erectum; TRAILING
ARBUTUS, Epigaea repens; TROUT LILY, Erythronium americanum; WILD GINGER,
Asarum canadense.


Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot, one of our earliest wildflowers, is in bloom! These roadside-loving plants bear a remarkable resemblance to dandelions. Both are in the Composite family, and thus, what looks like one flower is actually a cluster of many small flowers (florets). Dandelion florets are all strap-like “ray” florets whereas the center florets of coltsfoot are tubular “disk” florets, surrounded by ray florets. In addition, coltsfoot blossoms well before its colt’s foot-shaped leaves emerge, while dandelions produce flowers and leaves at the same time.


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